Bob Bowlsby and the unnamed commissioners who supported the idea of fall sports being played while schools offered online-only classes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic were shot down by NCAA president Mark Emmert on Friday night.
“College athletes are college students, and you can’t have college sports if you don’t have college [campuses] open and having students on them,” Emmert said on the NCAA’s Twitter channel. “You don’t want to ever put student-athletes at greater risk than the rest of the student body.”
Those comments came hours after Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said her conference had already decided fall sports would not be played if students aren’t allowed on campus. On Thursday, Bowlsby, the Big 12 commissioner, told Stadium online classes would be “satisfactory” to being able to bring student-athletes back to campus for fall sports. Other conference commissioners agreed with Bowlsby.
Yet, Emmert said every commissioner and president he has spoken to adheres to the belief that if regular students aren’t on campus, student-athletes can’t be, either. Something must have been lost in translation.
But what does a campus being open mean? What if there is a hybrid approach in which select students are brought back to campus because their coursework is dependent on them being there? Would student-athletes be included? There are Big East schools that are considering this approach.
“That doesn’t mean [schools have] to be up and running in the full normal model, but you’ve got to treat the health and well-being of the athletes at least as much as the regular students,” Emmert said. “So, if a school doesn’t reopen, then they’re not going to be playing sports. It’s really that simple.”
As for college basketball season, Ackerman said a decision would have to be made by Labor Day weekend if it will start on time. If the college football season is pushed back, which seems like a very realistic possibility, Ackerman said that could lead to basketball being delayed. But that hasn’t been discussed yet.
“We are proceeding right now as if it’s business as usual,” Ackerman said.
The Big East drew criticism for being the last high-major league to cancel its conference tournament. St. John’s and Creighton played a full half in an almost-empty Madison Square Garden before the tournament was canceled on March 12. Ackerman declined to say if the conference would have acted differently if it knew then what it knows now, with how prevalent the illness was in the city. But she reiterated that the league was working closely with local health and NCAA officials, and once it found out that large gatherings were going to be banned in the area, it made the decision to call off the tournament.
“Given what we knew at the moment, I think it was the best call we could’ve made,” she said.